From the President's Desk - Winter 2020
Welcome to the Winter 2020 issue of the International Zebrafish Society (IZFS) “News Splash”!
As we draw to the end of this extraordinary and traumatic year, it is sobering to reflect on how our world changed so dramatically in just a few short weeks in the deep midwinter. As a society, the first casualty of the pandemic was the 2020 9th Strategic Conference of Zebrafish Investigators conference. Better known as the SCZI/PI meetings, these popular events provide an unrivalled opportunity for zebrafish principal investigators to get together and exchange their latest ideas, results and technical innovations. We were very excited to be holding the 2020 meeting in Taipei, Taiwan, in early February and the organisers, Bon-chu Chung, Jeff Lee, and Didier Stainier, together with the Planning Committee, had put a huge amount of effort into ensuring this would be an enjoyable and successful event. After agonizing over how we should react to the events unfolding just across the South China Sea, the Executive Committee took the painful decision to call the meeting off.
As the virus spread rapidly around the world, it soon became clear that the fate of the Taiwan meeting was just a taste of things to come. The European meeting, originally scheduled to be held in Prague in June, also felt the impacts of the virus. However, thanks to rapidly developing technology, a virtual version of the European meeting went ahead in October, attracting over 400 participants. We had in the meantime established our own presence in cyberspace through our new Webinar series. When we launched this earlier this year, we really did not know how much interest it would attract and our initial plans for the series were quite modest. Under the superb stewardship of the Webinar Committee Chair Elisabeth Busch-Nentwich and co-Chair Tatjana Piotrowski, however, I am delighted to say it has been wildly successful, exceeding all expectations both in terms of demand for registration and also in the level of interest from companies keen to act as sponsors, thanks to the expert outreach by Nichole Nikolic and her team at EDI. I am grateful to all involved – and especially the presenters – for making this an exciting and, I am confident to predict, permanent feature of our membership benefits package, and one that is undoubtedly helping us with our recruitment drive.
Speaking of which, I am delighted to report that we have recently welcomed our first members from South Africa, providing representation from a continent that for too long has been off our radar. I can vouch from personal experience that South Africa has a rich and diverse talent pool and I look forward to the days when we can meet in person with our new members from this amazing country and help them in their efforts to build a research community based on the study of our favourite organism.
South Africa is just one of a number of countries whose residents can benefit from the discounted membership rates that we introduced last year for lower income economies, as determined by the World Bank. As THE International society of zebrafish researchers, it is essential that we make membership accessible to all zebrafish researchers around the globe irrespective of their financial means. In the first instance, we have offered a 50% reduction on the standard membership fees, but I am conscious that differences in average incomes can vary widely and I am determined to keep this under constant review to ensure that membership remains within reach of all zebrafish researchers.
Along related lines, we have for the first time this year established the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee chaired by Kirsten Sadler-Edepli. This long overdue committee will work to ensure that all aspects of the society’s activities are free from bias of any kind and to ensure that the Society’s presence and activities reach all corners of the globe. The pursuit of knowledge thrives on diversity and diversity can only be embraced through equality of opportunity and inclusion.
Last but by no means least, I would like to congratulate the winners of the year’s IZFS Awards. Selecting recipients for these prestigious marks of esteem is never an easy task and one that is assiduously undertaken by our Awards Committee: this has been expertly Chaired by Tatjana Piotrowski who has now been succeeded by our President-elect, Lila Solnika-Krezel. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Tatjana for all of her efforts in this role. Fittingly, Tatjana ended her term as Chair by announcing the winner of the Christine Beattie Travel Award, Hector Sanchez-Iranzo, the Chi-Bin Chien Award, Margot Williams and the Streisinger Award, Alex Schier. I offer them all my sincere congratulations on the recognition of their achievements.